by Brent Efford
The reality of the noise problem on Johnsonville trains (which brought complaints last week) is that the heavy rail electric multiple units which provide the service are at their limits on the line, although it now has the best on-time performance of any rail line in Wellington – 94%, even with the clapped-out English Electrics that were in use till June.
The noise problem would not have occurred if modern trams were used for the Johnsonville service. They were studied from the 1980s as replacements for the English Electrics. Three Regional Council studies in the 1990s proposed that light rail (tram train in the Wellington context) would be used on the line.
However, after the supporters of those studies were kicked out of the Regional Council bureaucracy or left in disgust in the early 2000s, light rail was forgotten about and the Matangi Mistake (specifying the new trains as heavy rail, not tram-train) was made by the current transport managers and approved by councillors with limited memories.
To a tram, fitted with resilient wheels and configured to operate over grades as steep as 1 in 12 and curves of 25m radius, the Johnsonville line is almost level and almost straight, and the noise problem would not have occurred.
When a busway plan on the government-owned railway line was rejected by OnTrack and Dr Cullen in 2006, Dr Cullen wrote to the city council and the regional council and noted:
“I am aware of the desire to look at extending the Johnsonville Line to Courtenay Place and this decision should not preclude that option in the future.”
Needless to say, that broad hint was ignored by the regional council, and more money than would have been needed to convert the Johnsonville line infrastructure to light rail was instead spent on readying it for the Matangis.
Brent Efford is Information Officer of Trams-Action – Tram-train for Wellington